Nearly two million people appear in a New Zealand police intelligence system with an alert against their name, inquiries by the Otago Daily Times have revealed. Those in the database are generally flagged without their knowledge, and a leading security analyst says the broad sweep of the system raises privacy concerns. George Block reports.

Has your driver's licence ever been cancelled? Vetted by police recently? Do you have a firearms licence?

Then chances are you appear in the police National Intelligence Application (NIA) with at least one alert against your name.

Police can apply 126 different "person alerts", including flags for firearms licence holders, people known by police to be HIV (AIDS) positive, and alerts for paedophiles and convicted murderers.

This all adds up: 1,988,963 people in New Zealand have at least one alert against their name - just over 40 per cent of the population at an average of 1.7 alerts per person, according to figures obtained under the Official Information Act by the Otago Daily Times.

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In Otago and Southland, 112,459 (34 per cent) of people have an alert against their name.
The most common alert is "Vetting Monitor", at 740,000 alerts on 570,000 people nationally.

Police general manager professionalism and assurance Mike Webb said this alert was placed on people to indicate they had been checked out by the police vetting service.

Alerts for "Family Violence Involvement" were the next most commonly applied, at 640,000 active alerts on 295,000 people.

Webb said people were automatically flagged when linked to a family harm incident, whether as a suspected offender, victim or a witness.

The third most frequently applied alert was a flag for people whose photo driver licence card was cancelled (430,000).

Some alerts expire quickly, but others linger for life.

Police assurance group national crime registrar Mike Rawsthorn said the "Missing Person" alert expired when the person was found.

Flags for family violence involvement expire two years after police attend the incident, he said.

But alerts for suicidal tendency and using/carrying firearms are indefinite, and only expire if they were errors.

Locations and vehicles can also be flagged, for example gang pads or stolen vehicles - one of the more colourful flags in the extensive list is the location alert for "booby traps".

Firearms licence flags are generated and applied automatically, only expiring with the licence, and non-citizens can be flagged.

The upshot of that is there is every chance the Christchurch terror accused had an alert against his name.

Generally people were not notified when an alert was placed against their name in the NIA system, but each case was judged on its merits.

However, at-risk family violence victims might be informed an alert was placed on them, their home, vehicle and telephone number to advise staff of the risk and assist police response, Rawsthorn said.

The NIA alert system plays an important part in the duties of frontline police.

When deployed to an unfolding incident, a call will come over the radio to advise officers of the flags of the person or location involved so they can respond accordingly.

For example, if a person has flags for assaulting police, they may call for backup on a routine traffic stop.

The system is also accessible from police mobile phones.

The intelligence application, which replaced NZ Police's Whanganui Computer, is far more than just a database of flags and includes information on criminal histories, offences, incidents and case management files.

Since it became operational in 2001, there have been several instances of police misusing the system.

In August 2009, figures showed 33 staff had been caught making unauthorised checks of the NIA since August 2007, The NZ Herald reported.

Nine later resigned.

Two years later, a police internal investigation found Senior Constable Terry Beatson leaked information from the system to win a custody battle with his wife's ex-husband, opening the man's file 17 times in four years.

There have also been repeated instances of police improperly accessing a database in the South in recent years.

Among the at least 82 allegations of general misconduct upheld against officers in Otago and Southland since 2015 was the case of an Otago officer who was investigated regarding the attempted suicide of a person in custody in 2015, before being subject to another probe in 2016 for "unauthorised use of a database".

The investigations upheld both allegations, according to earlier information provided to the ODT under the Official Information Act.

Reactions to the revelations about the extent of police flagging of New Zealanders were mixed.

Privacy Commissioner John Edwards would not be interviewed, but spokesman Charles Mabbett said in an email the commission had no general concerns about the NIA, but would look into specific issues with it should it become aware of them.

Massey University security studies lecturer Rhys Ball, a former NZ Security Intelligence Service intelligence officer, said an issue with the system was its sheer volume of material, and whether police were sufficiently resourced to manage and use the intelligence in a timely way.

"As they say, too much data is akin to pouring a cup of water with a fire hose."

Security analyst Paul Buchanan said the system raised privacy issues.

"Although I understand the legitimacy of most of the tags and the necessity of flagging victims or people at risk from domestic violence ... the flag system in the NIA seems to be a very broad net in a very small pond."

Police said the "HIV (AIDS) Carrier or Positive" alert was only added to individuals in police custody who have "self-identified" as part of the routine health screening and risk assessment, and it was not linked to medical records.

Dr Buchanan said while his concerns about the flags for HIV/AIDS and hepatitis were somewhat allayed by this, he remained concerned about privacy issues behind some of the flags, and the length of time they were applied.

"While many are legit and justifiable, others seem arbitrary and overly broad, [for example] the tag "other" in some categories."

New Zealand AIDS Foundation chief executive Jason Myers said it was previously unaware of the existence of the HIV/Aids alert, but he hoped it would not add to the stigmatisation of those living with the disease.

"People living with HIV should not generally be identified as a `risk' because of their HIV status alone."

Find your flags

Anyone can ask police to supply the alerts against their name as per Principle 6 of the Privacy Act. You will require two forms of ID and can make the request online or in person at a police station.

Person Alerts

AA Plan Intervention Curfew

Alcohol & Drug Addiction Act Order/s

Alcohol Interlock device required

Arsonist

Breaches Court Bail

Breaches EM Bail

Breaches Police Bail

CAPPS Alert

Child Abuser (Physical)

Child Abuser (Sexual)

Child Sex Offender

CJP Referral User Failed to Complete

Committed To Psychiatric Hospital

Convicted Murderer

Court Orders (Other)

CYP Family Group Conference Restrictions

CYP Subject of Custody Order (S101/102 OT Act 1989)

CYP Subject of Place of Safety Warrant

CYP Voluntary Curfew

CYP Voluntary Disqualification

CYP Voluntary Non Association

CYP Voluntary Prohibition

Dementia / Alzheimer's Disease

Deported / Removed from New Zealand

DNA Application Filed

DNA Data bank Compulsion Notice (DCN) Issued and Served

DNA Databank Compulsion Notice Candidate

DNA Hit

Domestic Violence Act Protection Orders

Drug Cultivator

Drug Manufacturer

Drug Supplier

Drug User

E M Bail

E M Bail User Approved Variation

Escapes from Custody

Family Safety Team Intervention Subject

Family Violence High Risk

Family Violence Involvement

Financial Intelligence Held

Fines Warrant

Fingerprint Hit

Firearms Endorsement Breach

Firearms Licence Breach

Firearms Licence Expired

Firearms Licence Holder

Forbidden to Drive Medical review to be undertaken by NZTA

Gang Alert

Health (Other)

Hepatitis Positive

High Risk Offender

HIV (AIDS) Carrier or Positive

Home Detention

Imprisoned

Imprisoned Overseas

Indefinite Disqualification

Intelligence Information Required / Held

Licensed Premises Manager / Licensee

Liquor Licensing Officer Information

Medically / physically unable to provide blood specimen S60(3C) LTA

Mental Health

Missing

Multi Agency High Risk

Multiple Traffic Warnings

Offender Management Plan in Place

Other (Specify)

Overseas Conviction

Paedophile

Parole Recall Warrant

Partial Disqualification

Photo Driver Licence Card Cancelled

Police Recruit Applicant

Police Restrictions

Police Safety Order Breached

Police Safety Order Breached / Person Wanted

Police Safety Order Service

Police Safety Order Wanted for Service

Pornographer

Prisoner to be Released

PSPPI Certificate of Approval Application

PSPPI Certificate of Approval Issued

PSPPI Licence Application

PSPPI Licence Issued

PSPPI Temporary Certificate of Approval Issued

Receiver

Registered Child Sex Offender

Release Conditions

Required to Arrest

Required to be Located/Intelligence Required

Restraining Order Person

Returning Overseas Offender

Revoked, Disqualified, Suspended

Road Safety Target

Roadside Suspension Forbidden

Roadside Suspension Forbidden to operate. No Transport Service Licence

Roadside Suspension Incorrect licence class

Roadside Suspension Temporary

Scrap Metal Receiver

Scrap Metal Thief

Self Harm

Suicidal Tendency

Suspended DLSO

Tagger

Temporarily Released Prisoner

Temporary Licence Suspension

Threat

Trespass

Truant

Under Court Ordered Prohibition Order

Updated Address Required for Service of Medical Revocation

Use of Force - TOR

Uses / Carries Firearms

Uses or Carries Knife / Other Weapon

Vetting Monitor

Victim Intervention Plan in place

Violence - Assaults Police/Law Enforcement Officer

Violence - (Other)

VOVO Act Non Contact Order Victim

VOVO Non Contact Order Offender

Wanted for Service of Demerit Points Suspension Notice

Wanted for service of demerit points suspension or medical suspension / revocation

Wanted for Service of Summons / Other Document

Wanted for Service of Suspension Letter

Wanted to Interview

Warrant to Arrest

Zero alcohol level allowed

Location alerts

Booby Traps

Business Location of the Holder of a dealer firearms Licence

Clan Lab Address

Criminal Rehabilitation

Dangerous Dogs

Domestic Violence Act Protection Orders

Drug Manufacturing House

Drug Rehabilitation

Family Violence

Firearms Licensing Alerts

Firearms stored at location of the holder of a firearms licence endorsement

Fortified Property

FV Alarm Fitted Do NOT Disclose

Gang Address (Pad)

Home Detention

Housing NZ Property

Intelligence information required / held

Juvenile Halfway House

Known Drug Dealer / Tinnie House

Linked Person Alert

Other (Specify)

Psychiatric Rehabilitation

Radio Transmission / Mobility Coverage Impaired

Security Location of Firearms Licence Holder Threatened Witness Residence

Trespass Order

Under Camera Surveillance by Occupants

Uses Radio Scanners

Violence Used against Police in Past

Organisation Alerts

Closure of Licensed Premises

Fines Warrant

Important Information

Intelligence Information Required / Held

Members Violent

Other (Specify)

Person Safety Alert

PSPPI Licence Application

PSPPI Licence Issued

Roadside Suspension Forbidden to operate. No Transport Service Licence

Threat

Vehicle Alerts

Vehicle Abandoned

Vehicle Blue Sticker s248 LTA

Vehicle Breach of Cruising Bylaw

Vehicle Damaged / Wrecked / Written Off

Vehicle Driver Forbidden to Drive

Vehicle Driver known to supply False Information

Vehicle Forged

Vehicle Found

Vehicle Green - Discretionary issued under sec 115(2A)

Vehicle Green - Issued for defects

Vehicle Green - Issued under section 96(1B) for Illegal Street Racing

Vehicle Important Information

Vehicle Impounded

Vehicle Known to be driven by Child Abuser

Vehicle Known to be driven by Disqualified Driver

Vehicle Known to be driven under the influence of Drugs or Alcohol

Vehicle Known to be Used for Breaching Driving Hours

Vehicle Located Stolen Vehicle

Vehicle Organisation Safety Alert

Vehicle Other (Specify)

Vehicle Person Safety Alert

Vehicle Petrol Drive off

Vehicle Pink Sticker

Vehicle Repossessed

Vehicle Seized

Vehicle Sought

Vehicle Stolen

Vehicle Surrendered

Vehicle Towed

Vehicle Under Observation

Vehicle Wrecked

Vehicle Written off - Insurance Company